500px Photo ID: 77626027 - Japanese Garden at The Huntington Botanical Gardens and Library

Anup Chauhan / 500px

Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens

Top choice in Pasadena & the San Gabriel Valley

One of the most delightful, inspirational spots in LA, the Huntington is rightly a highlight of any trip to California thanks to a world-class mix of art, literary history and over 120 acres of themed gardens (any one of which would be worth a visit on its own), all set amid stately grounds. There's so much to see and do that it's hard to know where to begin; allow three to four hours for even a basic visit.

You might start with the library. Only a fraction of its six million rare books and related items can possibly go on display to the public, but they're pretty darned impressive: a Gutenberg Bible, a manuscript of the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, books by Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus and numerous items relating to the US Civil War, westward expansion, women's suffrage and early California.

Nearby, in the galleries of European and American art, you can lose yourself in the brushstrokes of Thomas Gainsborough's the Blue Boy and Thomas Lawrence's Pinkie, or take in American classics by the likes of Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol and Frank Stella. There are also decorative arts from intricately patterned furniture to porcelain and gleaming silver service.

Then there are the gardens – about a dozen – meticulously curated like museums. Among our favorites is the Chinese Garden, where the Jade Ribbon Bridge straddles a pond surrounded by rockeries and a cafe. In the Japanese Gardens, hills, valleys and waterways are lined with precision-pruned pine trees around a 1904 Japanese house, and paths lead to a Zen garden and courtyards of bonsai. The landscapes of the Desert Garden are surprisingly full of life, and in the Rose Garden guests can enjoy high tea in the tea room (reservations strongly suggested any day and well in advance on weekends).

The Huntington was established in 1919 as the genteel country estate of railroad, utility and real-estate tycoon Henry Huntington and his wife, Arabella.

Advance tickets are required for free-day admission.